Cleodora, Cleophee, Cleopatra: Getting to Cleo

by appellationmountain on June 28, 2013

English: Actress Theda Bara in one of her famo... Theda Bara as Cleopatra; Photo credit: Wikipedia

I’ve started to write this post a million times.  After all, we call our daughter Clio.  I have a long-standing love affair with the ancient world.  And while she’s no Chloe, she’s gotten some buzz in recent years.  Sam Elliott gave the name to his daughter in 1984.  David Schwimmer used it in 2011.  Then there was a rumor that Cleopatra made the shortlist for Kim and Kanye’s baby girl.

If Kimye had chosen the name – or Kleo or Klio - I would have expected her to catch fire.  After all, she ranked in the US Top 1000 from 1880 through 1956, peaking in the 1910s.  If the hundred year rule applies, she’s due for a comeback right about now.  And she’s been gently trending upwards.  66 girls received the name in 2000.  By 2012, that number had almost doubled, to 119.

Bestselling novelist V.C. Andrews was born Cleo Virgina.  There was a character on ER, and another in Monsters High.  The Australian equivalent of magazine Cosmo is Cleo.

She packs a lot of retro style, a mix of Elizabeth Taylor-esque glamor and the allure of the Queen of the Nile.  Her bright o ending is thoroughly sprightly and modern.  Feminine, but frills free.

Worried that she’s not enough name?  It turns out there are tons of ways to get to Cleo – or Clio – as a nickname.

First, a quick note on the two forms: both the ‘e’ and ‘i’ spellings come from same root, sometimes written as Kleio in English.  The name means “to proclaim glory.”  The first famous Clio was the Muse of history.  One imagines that she did a lot of proclaiming.

Greek Routes to Cleo

Cleopatra – Worn by multiple queens of the ancient world.  Cleopatra VII was the lover of Mark Antony until the pair was defeated by the future Emperor Augustus.  Their daughter was Cleopatra Selene, sometimes known as Cleopatra VIII.  Cleopatra is pretty rare as a given name, but French dancer Cleopatra Merode comes to mind.

Cleodora - In Greek myth, she and her two sisters made up a trio of prognosticating nymphs, called the Thriae. In some accounts she had a child by the ocean god Poseidon.

Theoclea - This is a stretch, but I’ve come across a bird called the Thekla Lark.  The lark takes its name from the ancient Greek Theokleia.  Thekla has a history of use as a given name – there’s a first century martyr Saint Thekla – but I can easily imagine Theoclea shortening to Cleo.

French Routes to Cleo

Cleophee – Take Fiona, add in Cleo, and you’ll arrive at this French appellation: Cléophée.  The logical English pronunciation is Cleo plus fee at the end, though the French is a little closer to Cleo plus Fay.  Either way, she’s a French choice that goes farther than Genevieve.

Cleonice – Another rarity I stumbled on.  The -nice ending, shared by clunky antiques like Bernice and Patrice, grounds the funky, modern Cleo.  Either it makes for a stunningly different combination, or it just falls flat.  I can’t decide.

Gaelic Routes to Cleo

Cliodhna – She’s a Gaelic goddess, a Banshee Queen in Irish folklore.  A banshee shriek is meant to terrify, so maybe this is unusual inspiration for a child’s name.  And the -dhna is definitely not intuitive to pronounce in English.  Forvo pronounces it clee oh NAH.

Cliona - Another spelling of the royal Banshee’s name, possibly easier to manage.  Both names take an accent: Clíona and Clíodhna.

Modern Smoosh Routes to Cleo

Cleobel, -belle, -bella – Bel endings have been big in recent years, and any of these combinations has some real appeal.

Cleolinda – I’ve seen this one suggested out there in namelandia, but I can’t find where.  There is a blogger/writer known as Cleolinda Jones.  Her name is just about unique.

Other Possible Routes to Cleo

Cleopha - Possibly an English version of Cleophee, she feels like one of the clunkier options on this list.

Clementine – Love Clementine, but fret that Clem and Clemmie don’t make for the best nicknames?  Add an -o to the first three letters, and you’ll have a wearable short form.  This possibility is bandied about on name forums, but it was used in real life by Clementina Cote, a French painter who came of age in the 1960s, studying with Picasso.  Jazz singer Cleo Laine was also born Clementina.

Cleouna - Your guess is as good as mine!  Is Cleouna an Anglicization of Cliodhna?  Or just an invention by creative parents?  Either way, it was the birth name of blonde bombshell Cleo Moore, a Hollywood starlet from the 1950s.

Cleomie, Cleome - Looking for a botanical spin on the Egyptian queen?  Cleome are typically called spider plants.  I find her wildly pretty, though the less common Cleomie spelling probably would make pronunciation easier.

Caroline – I’ll admit this one is a major stretch, but the sounds and letters are there.  It’s also partially how we got to Clio for our daughter.

What do you think of Cleo names?  Would you consider any of these?  Are there other possibilities that should be on this list?

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